Read This Book
'More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century.'
There's a Chinese proverb that says women hold up half the sky. This book, Half the Sky - How To Change The World describes the countries and cultures where this isn't true; where half of the population are oppressed or not utilised. The authors propose that addressing gender injustice will at large address the greater issues of perpetual poverty.
Gender injustice is a pretty vague title, isn't it? If you're like me and living in the Western world, perhaps your first thoughts go to feminism or angry white women feeling their rights have been thwarted. Perhaps that's you, or perhaps you're an onlooker who thinks people (women) are making a big deal of something that's slight when they feel stereotyped or belittled. Regardless of what your personal experience (or non-experience) of gender injustice may be, I want this blog post to shout loudly that on an international scale the quality of people's lives is determined by their gender, and I think that's both scary and worth caring about.
Mandela said that as a black man growing up in South Africa he experienced 'dozens of petty indignities directed at him every day’, purely because of his race. Something about this eloquent statement resonated with me and my experience of being a woman. Bear with me on this one. I feel my life has been full of recurrent and subtle hints that women are somewhat lesser than men, and honestly, I'm delivered to actually questioning whether this is founded on truth because it seems to be ingrained so deeply. I've been in cars where a guy assumes the front seat even though he's not the tallest and thus doesn't need the most leg room. I've travelled with teams led by a woman where our host will communicate details to a younger male teammate over the female leader. I queued hundreds of times amongst ladies for public toilets because there's the same amount of cubicles in our toilets as in the men's, despite that women have far more bodily fluids to deal with that require privacy. Abroad, I've been groped by strangers (yes, that's plural) and I've been followed home by a group of men when out walking alone. I've had people who do and don't know me refer to when I'll get married and have children, assuming that's my plan and making me question whether this is necessary for my life to have worth. Forgive me if this list sounds petty. I confess, I can see that too and find it infuriatingly difficult to communicate and explain how regularly I notice that women can be seen as lesser.
'This is not a tidy world of tyrannical men and victimised women, but a messier realm of oppressive social customs adhered to by men and women alike.'
I don't want pity or to sit in the front seat of a car more often. In fact, I don't particularly want someone to read these experiences of mine and validate them. Instead, I want people to notice that particularly in underdeveloped countries girls and women are marginalised and dying purely because of their gender. Around the world girls die at far higher rates than boys because of maternal mortality (women dying in childbirth), human trafficking, sexual violence and routine daily discrimination (such as poor families preferring food and medical supplies to their sons, or the abortion of girls). It's worth pointing out that both this blog post and the book doesn't accuse men alone of this guilt - actually gender discrimination is perpetuated by women and men. There are women who run brothels; there are mothers who feed their sons before their daughters. Blaming one gender would be the biggest waste of time. Instead, a statement from the end of the book gives great advice: 'If you care about poverty you must understand it, not just oppose it.' Let's seek to better understand gender bias and how, depending on where you born, your gender might be fatal to you.
Whilst this blog post is a longwinded way of me begging you to read this book, below I'll share some of its statistics and statements so you can have a small taste.
- 'Women might just have something to contribute to civilisation other than their vaginas.' - Christopher Buckley, Florence of Arabia
- 'More girls are killed in this routine 'gendercide' in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.'
- 'Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings at home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.'
- 'There's a strong correlation between countries where women are marginalised and countries with high maternal mortality.'
- 'During World War 1, more American women died in childbirth than American men in war.'
- 'Mortality data shows that in famines and droughts, it is mostly girls who die, not boys.'
- 'One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty.'
- 'In developing countries, tormenting the illiterate is usually risk-free; preying on the educated is more perilous.'
- 'The first step toward greater justice is to transform that culture of female docility and subservience, so that women themselves become more assertive and demanding.'
- 'Girls in poor countries are particularly undernourished, physically and intellectually. If we educate and feed those girls and give them employment options, then the world as a whole will gain a new infusion of human intelligence - and poor countries will garner citizens and leaders who are better equipped to address those countries' challenges.'